With bellies full of another year's festive indulgence, it's time to return to The Best Of Beer 2023.
Before pausing for Christmas and Boxing Day, we'd paid visits Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania, which means there's just two more stops to make.
The first of those is in South Australia, where the theme is very much local – with a smattering of European influence along the way.
It’s no secret that supply chain logistics have been impacted and become more costly in recent years, nor that there’s a growing interest in provenance and environmental sustainability among many producers and consumers. It means there’s a greater demand for local artisanal suppliers to step up.
In 2023, two such operations launched in South Australia: Ferveo Yeast and AMSAT Character Malts.
First of the two to join SA’s brewing industry was Ferveo Yeast, created by former winemaker, Tommaso Watson , who leaned into his PhD studies into fermentation biology and set up a lab in Adelaide. He brought in different strains from yeast banks around the world before propagating them ready to be sold to local companies.
There is more to the Ferveo story, however, as you can read in our interview from earlier in the year, with his yeast sold as a concentrated paste and packaged in a vessel that can be pressurised so that pitching is clean and efficient.
Bowden, Shapeshifter, Woolshed, Watsacowie, Uraidla and The Wheaty Brewing Corps are just some of the locals using Ferveo’s yeast, with the last of those in particular working closely with Tommaso (pictured in the middle of the bottom left image at the top), initially with their outstanding foeder beers and, more recently, when creating the Three Circles of Helles: the same beer other than choice of Ferveo lager strain.
The outcome was remarkable, and was granted its own event. Wheaty owner Jade Flavell plans to continue to exploring the world of yeast with Tommaso, saying of innovative local companies: “If we don’t use them, we lose them.”
Towards the end of the year, AMSAT Character Malts (pictured above) released their first specialty malts. While this company is new, they have experience and a backstory stretching back many years ago, which you can read about here.
Working with local farmers, AMSAT currently make crystal, roasted and peated malts for the brewing and distilling industries, working with multigenerational family business Ellerslie to get their products across Australia.
Having locally-propagated yeast and a malt producer readily available in South Australia has led to a number of all-SA beers: Brightstar’s SA Dark Lager, utilising malts and yeast from these two companies and hops from Keyneton Hop Garden; Woolshed used AMSAT malts and Ferveo yeast in their Outback Amber.
Ferveo Yeast has popped up everywhere in SA in 2023 and, while AMSAT Character Malts are barely getting started, it feels like there’s a big future for both.
Town Of Five Takes Flight
The South Australian craft beer industry is filled with friendly, super-supportive people who might be competitors but still look to lift each other. One operation that epitomises this ideology, bringing some good old fashioned country charm with them too, is found at the Prairie Hotel, home of the Parachilna Brew Project.
The very existence of these entwined businesses is little short of remarkable. Parachilna, the town in the remote Flinders Ranges in which the Fargher family resides, has an official population of just five. Despite this, the Prairie Hotel and Parachilna Brew Project offer a level of service – at the pub, the accommodation, and their onsite brewery – you wouldn't expect to find in such a spot to tourists and travellers every year.
The tiny population and remote location are only part of the challenge they have to overcome too. The town is run on a diesel generator, which means head brewer Lachy Fargher can’t brew if the pub is operating, leading to very early mornings and very late nights.
The Farghers approach the challenges head on with a smile, and enjoyed a great 2023, with the Parachilna Brew Project expanding its reach and sending cans and kegs to Adelaide where they were gratefully received.
A massive achievement for South Australia’s most remote brewery.
While many in the industry are struggling, there are others who are just starting out on their journey. In 2023 in SA alone, there were several who opened their doors and served beer for the first time.
Yellow Matter welcomed punters to their stylish venue (above left) in June, with the Sonic Yoni hospitality group headed by Janie Kammer bringing a love for The Beatles to Brooklyn Park.
Janie brought with her many years of hospo experience as well as staff who share her passion for creating great experiences. Running the 850L brewhouse is Tristian Barlow, who has worked at the likes of La Sirène and Bodriggy, who focuses on sessionable beers designed to pair with Yellow Matter’s great pizzas. Notable releases to date include their Norwegian Red, an amber sour and the DDH Saison. In 2024, look out for a new vego restaurant referencing Leonard Cohen next door.
Adelaide’s CBD welcomed Crafty Robot in 2023, taking up residence in an old tile shop in Grote Street. The renovated, bright, inviting taphouse includes a large beer garden, games and eight beer taps typically pouring hoppy American styles, some European classics and seasonal offerings.
Set among the vineyard-covered rolling hills of the McLaren Vale region is Penny Red, which opened in early April, just down the road from the SA veterans Goodieson Brewery. It’s a cosy, picturesque affair, where you might catch live music on the weekend.
Jump Ship’s story started many years ago in 1924, when co-owner Steve Hankins’ great, great, great grandfather abandoned a Norwegian ship while it sheltered from violent storms in Boston Bay to start a new life in Australia. Now resting in the heart of Port Lincoln, Steve and wife Michelle have put community at the forefront of the business, and pairing session-friendly beers with tapas, tacos and a welcoming small town atmosphere.
BeerNoEvil and Lone Gum’s Lonsdale brewery and taphouse has been a long time coming – and at time of writing still wasn’t quite open. The two breweries (whose owners are pictured above right) sharing Unit 3 are entirely different in ethos and output but embrace each other as friends. Lone Gum focus on barrel-aged sours, farmhouse funk and blending; BeerNoEvil have a reputation for hoppy IPAs and pales and bold stouts. Add Nightworks Distillery and wine made by Ryan of Lone Gum and it’s quite the offering.
Not technically a new brewery opening but a new venue opened by local independent brewery, Kick Back, Drifter’s Pizza Bar now calls Port Noarlunga home; with a mere 16-minute drive from the actual brewery, you can assure the beer is fresh.
Another new venue in 2023 was Woodshed, who took over Big Shed’s old venue and pour the likes of locals BeerNoEvil alongside interstate companies Six String and One Drop, with a heavy metal theme, Guitar Hero, and live music.
If you look hard enough, you might also find beers from two smaller ventures, Clarendon Brewing and Eclectic Brewing. The former tend to host popup stalls at the markets in Clarendon, while the latter can be found at the odd venue here and there and also appear at beer events, such as Beer & BBQ.
As for 2024, look out for Little Blessings in Laura – a craft brewery in a renovated old church, and Gawler River, who have plans for a large venue on Dawkins Road.
Su Legno Primo
Barrel-fermented beer. Not a new idea when considering the long history of fermentation, yet this ethos took shape as one of 2023’s standout South Australian beers, complete with a no-hype vibe that becomes more and more inviting.
Although the brewing company launched in 2022, Su Legno only really hit the shelves in earnest this year. Meaning “On Wood” in Italian, the tiny operation launched by John Ricciotti, who has worked everywhere from bottleshops to the Cooper production floor, lives by the motto, “What is old is new again”.
Working with oak requires time, and timing, the keen balance of which birthed Primo: an amber ale that’s a harmony of ingredients and intent. Caramel malts reveal oaky vanilla, apricot jam and an almost creamy note – Panascone pairing? … imagine a panettone in scone form. Slight carbonation renders weight while keeping just enough cleansing pace to easily finish the large format bottle. You could presumably share this, I guess…
Speaking of which, the 750ml glass features the kind of 1930s Italian Futurist design that transcends time. Su Legno's Primo looked as smart as the liquid inside, and with sibling Oro, a golden pale, plus the yet-to-be-released Nero, there's an assured 2024 ahead.
Those looking for more are well-placed to revisit Rob Horner’s feature. Guy Southern
SixTwelve Brewing Really Big Fella
I’m not going to lie – and, yes, I’m aware this is very #firstworldproblems – but there are times as a beer writer when you pull a beer sent for review from the fridge on a midweek evening and think: “Really? Do I want to crack this [enter double-digit ABV beer] on a school night?”
I’m pretty sure that thought crossed my mind with SixTwelve’s Really Big Fella: a 10 percent ABV imperial red rye IPA. A few minutes later, I was calculating whether it was a greater crime to pour any of it down the sink to ensure a clear head in the morning, or to undertake a dusty school run. I opted for the latter; despite the heavy loading of malt, hops and booze, it somehow landed with a subtlety, while unfurling layers and layers of flavour.
Nice one, big fella. James Smith
Watsacowie Gold BA Sour
Drew Coleman and his Watsacowie beers are no stranger to these articles and, in 2023, it was his golden barrel-aged sour Brewers Gold that really caught the eye.
A lovely, delicate and subdued affair pouring a lightly rouge-tinted, oily copper colour, it presented with a velvet texture and a really subtle wine barrel character, the tannin structure elevating a touch of vanilla and red berry.
Add in strawberries & cream lollies, blueberry in the finish, a mild tartness carrying the whole thing, and you had a delightful beer waiting to be savoured. Rob Horner
Little Bang Emotional Rescue
It’s a new Little Bang Brewing that sees in the end of 2023: following the sale to the Duxton Pubs Group last year, one founder moved to WA while the other, Ryan Davidson, had stayed on but he was made redundant a few months ago.
It’s much earlier in the year that we’re concerned with here, however, and the twin release of a pair of IPAs. Of the two, it was the bigger that really impressed: Emotional Rescue (pictured above right with fellow hazy release Bliss Point on the left). It was a DDH double IPA in which multi-faceted hop Talus played wonderfully well with fellow US varieties Mosaic, Ekuanot and Amarillo.
Nailing such sizeable hazy IPAs to the point they manage to balance potency of aroma and flavour with approachability is no mean feat, and this beer did just that, with a kaleidoscopic display of hop aromatics upfront and a touch of resinous bitterness keeping things grounded. JS
Suburban Boh-Ella Pilsner
With their new brewery well and truly dialled-in, Suburban pumped out a few more limited releases in 2023. Several were noteworthy, such as their summer ale Gettin There, named after a phrase uttered often while said brewery was taking shape, which served up elements of a light, drinkable pale ale with big IPA resin and flavours.
However, their absolute standout from the past 12 months was Boh-Ella Pilsner. Another fine merger, here the classic Czech pilsner malt base provided the ideal platform for lesser-seen Aussie hop variety Ella to do its thing. Clean and crisp with grassy elements combining with white grapes and a little lychee, it made for a wonderfully-executed new world lager.
And, because choosing just five standout beers is far too difficult, here are two more that deserve a mention. When local drinkers were asked what their favourite of the year was, Shapeshifter warranted several mentions, rarely for the same beer. The best of the bunch was their collaboration beer with Sydney-based Bracket Brewing: Harmonious Frequency was a juicy 8 percent ABV NEIPA bringing classic NZ vibes.
Another beer talked about a lot this year was Uraidla’s Mana NZH-106, a follow up to the beer of the same name (then using NZH-102) that featured in last year’s lineup. The single hop sequel did not disappoint with huge, clawing, dank resin on the nose, plus peach and pineapple flavours aplenty.
Breakthrough Brewery: Brightstar
It’s been a big year for Brightstar, especially when you remember they’ve only been operating since April 2022.
At the time, they looked to buck the trend by opting to focus on European style beers, and moving away from the heavily hopped American styles. It was a bold move that had to be done well, and it was. Very well, in fact, with head brewer Steve Brockman cranking out style perfect beers. Many noteworthy beers left Brightstar this year: Czech Pilsner, German Helles, the award-winning Schwarzbier and Berliner Weisse, to name just a few.
To solidify their dedication to the European way, side-pour Lukr taps were installed this year and I’m told European style glassware will be introduced in the new year.
But there are more reasons for showcasing them here, not least for their dedication to staff training. Owners Gareth and Megan Parker made a plan from day one to put their staff through the Cicerone program to ensure they understood the product inside and out; they always have at least one Cicerone-trained staff member on duty.
As a part of this training, each member of the team is given the opportunity to brew a beer that resonated with them during training, with dark lager Czech Tmave a great example to come from this process.
Other notable achievements included the aforementioned all-SA dark lager, and the canning of their beer for the first time. This included creating a mixed packs of beers that allow fans to take a tour of some of the great European styles in comfort of their own homes.
A truly sensational year from the Thebarton brewery, which just whets the appetite to see what they’ve got in store for 2024 and beyond.
How Was 2023 For You?
Ross Wood is the driving force behind craft beer at Adelaide’s West Beach Cellars and O’Sullivan Beach Liquor, which sits on the coast south of the city.
Both bottleshops have been upping the stakes when it comes to craft beer in their communities in recent times, while their crafty credentials were given a further boost in 2023 after the team took over another purveyor of fine booze Goodwood Cellars. The iconic store has long been one of the city’s top stops for craft beer, fine wine and excellent spirits, so with a third store to play with, we figured Ross was well placed to comment on the SA beer scene in 2023.
How was 2023 for you and the team?
It was a year marked by notable achievements and growth for our stores here in Adelaide, with ever-increasing success amongst a struggling industry.
We faced challenges with resilience and adaptability, and there were undoubtedly moments of learning and progress, ultimately leading to positive outcomes.
Support for local is a pretty consistent trend in South Australia; we don’t have as big a population as many other parts of Australia and people like supporting beers from their backyard.
There's lots of little guys popping up that get a fair bit of support behind them; we’ve had a lot of success by backing breweries like Little Pete, Tiny Fish and Jump Fish – Watsacowie’s been huge for us too. Everyone gets around those small producers.
Which beers from SA have you enjoyed most in 2023?
Standouts for me this year would have to be the double IPAs and triple IPAs coming out of Uraidla Brewery in the Adelaide Hills, like Telekinesis, Omnipresent, Mana and so on.
There must be something in the water up there as these guys can do no wrong. It’s seriously impressive stuff that’s giving the interstate guys a run for their money.
What can people expect from you in 2024?
We're all about promoting South Australian craft and featuring breweries from all over Australia.
We work hard to bring in new breweries from across the country, especially smaller ones, giving them the spotlight they deserve. Our goal is to support and showcase the diversity and excellence of Australian craft brewing, helping both local and interstate brewers grow and gain recognition.
While we'll continue to offer a diverse selection of international beers, our main emphasis and mission is on exploring the untapped potential within our own backyard.
And what's your one wish for Aussie beer in 2024 and beyond?
More collaboration and more eyes on South Australia. Will Ziebell
You'll find all articles in the series here. Additional coverage by James Smith, Guy Southern, Will Ziebell and Rob Horner as indicated.